From information … to knowledge creation!

Exploring Transliteracy


image by librarianbyday.net used with permission on a creative commons license

As I have been researching different forms of information and media literacy, I have been increasingly stumbling across the term transliteracy.   I have been pondering the need for a new term and struggling to discern what the subtle nuances are and how the term transliteracy differs from our understanding of information literacy.  In my search, I have come across the following statements that advocate for the expansion of the definition of information literacy, perhaps leading to the need for a new term to describe the changes. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner(2007) states:

The definition of information literacy
 has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed. Information literacy has progressed from the simple definition of using reference resources to find information. Multiple literacies, including digital, visual, textual, and technological, have now joined information literacy as crucial skills for this century. (p. 2)

The addition of interaction with various forms of media requiring skills beyond those needed to decode and manipulate text seems to be a leading factor in the shift.  Jenkins (2006) writes:

 As media literacy advocates have claimed during the past several decades, students also must acquire a basic understanding of the ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world; the economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated; the motives and goals that shape the media they consume; and alternative practices that operate outside the commercial mainstream. Such groups have long called for schools to foster a critical understanding of media as one of the most powerful social, economic, political, and cultural institutions of our era. What we are calling here the new media literacies should be taken as an expansion of, rather than a substitution for, the mass media literacies. …[T]he new media literacies should be seen as social skills, as ways of interacting within a larger community, and not simply an individualized skill to be used for personal expression. …We must push further by talking about how meaning emerges collectively and collaboratively in the new media environment and how creativity operates differently in an open-source culture based on sampling, appropriation, transformation, and repurposing.  The social production of meaning is more than individual interpretation multiplied; it represents a qualitative difference in the ways we make sense of cultural experience, and in that sense, it represents a profound change in how we understand literacy. In such a world, youth need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them. (p. 20)

A New Term

Thomas, et al (2007) defines transliteracy as:

The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. …The word ‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. This of course is nothing new, but transliteracy extends the act of transliteration and applies it to the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal. From early signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. (p.2)

Thomas, et al address the question that is most pressing for me, namely, what is the difference between media/information literacy and transliteracy:

An ongoing debate …focuses on the ways in which transliteracy differentiates itself from “media literacy”, defined by Ofcom as “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts” (Ofcom, 2003). Our current thinking (although still not entirely resolved) is that because it offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital literacy.” (p.3) …Transliteracy is, of course, inextricable from social practice, and social researchers have an influential part to play by investigating from two directions — transliteracy as a cultural phenomenon, and as a lens through which to examine society and culture. On one hand, it is the kind of literacy we require to be able to simultaneously attend to multiple media and modes of communication: the literacy of the ‘trans’. On the other, it also refers to that kind of literacy we use to apply the literacies of one mode or medium to another one: transliteration. This dual nature of transliteracy implies that it can be employed to understand communication both diachronically (over time) and synchronically (at the same time). (p.11)

Whew!  That is a lot to chew over.  Ipri (2010) put it a bit more succinctly:

Transliteracy is concerned with mapping meaning across different media and not with developing particular literacies about various media. It is not about learning text literacy and visual literacy and digital literacy in isolation from one another but about the interaction among all these literacies. (p. 1)

So What?

So, as I understand it, transliteracy encompasses the skills needed to successfully navigate among and between many modalities, including social networks.  This umbrella term and nuanced skill set seems important in our world of participatory culture.  Big questions arising for me are:

  • How will we clearly articulate this in the K-12 environment?
  • What are the specifics of the new skill sets that are needed?
  • Is there enough of a difference in this umbrella term that differs from our current understanding of literacy  to merit intense focus?
  • Will focus on this as something new bring a necessary new lens and needed attention to the media/information/digital literacy skills that we have been discussing for years now?   Can this be the new ‘horse we ride in on’?

What are your thoughts?  I welcome your comments and feedback.

For more information and a visual representation of transliteracy, please see the following slideshare and visit the transliteracy website and the post beginner’s guide to transliteracy.

Exploring transliteracy

View more PowerPoint from Bobbi Newman


Ipri, T. (2010) Introducing Transliteracy. College & Research Libraries News, 71(10), 532-567. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/10/532.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Standards for the 21st century learner. (2007). Chicago: American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/ guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S., & Pullinger, K. (2007). ‘Transliteracy: Crossing divides’. First Monday, 12 (12). Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2060/1908


Author: ephansen

I am passionate about library learning commons and the intersection of information seeking, co-creation and sharing of knowledge. Trans-literacy, inquiry and digital citizenship are also areas of exploration. Emphasis is K-12, but this is important for learners of all ages...

2 thoughts on “Exploring Transliteracy

  1. What I think we will have to be wary of is not compartmentalizing the “literacies.” For me, the notion of transliteracy, should be the relative ease with which people can move between different modalities. An important part of literacy learning will be not only the ability to transfer learning to different situations, but to choose the best “literacy” to use in a given situation.

  2. Transliteracy is an interesting concept for sure. I find that the above scholarly perspectives on transliteracy call for people to understand what the tool is and how to use it. Yet I see it in a more artistic way. Each media predisposes itself to certain areas of advantage and disadvantage much like the different forms of art. For instance it is more efficient and effective to show the color red using paint than a musical instrument such as a tuba, or even writing the word “red”. So I feel like the distinct technologies and media offered by the internet and mobile apps should look towards artistic practices to guide those interested in how to use the technology. What is the user’s intent when considering the media? What does the media allow you to do? What does it allow you not to do? How does the user best convey his/her relationship to the subject matter? Is it by color, by word, by dynamics, by auditory or cinematic? Is it for mass appeal, or focused? Who is the audience, and how might the interpretation change based on the audience?

    I think some of these questions which are largely arts inspired will help direct people towards a more sophisticated view of the technology and respect the fact that certain tools will communicate something far better than others in its own particular way. However, echoing the tone in the blog, how on earth do we keep up with the proliferation and propagation of new programs, media and technology?

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